QIMR Berghofer scientists targeting critical areas of patient need including bowel cancer, chronic liver disease and immunotherapy-resistant cancers have been awarded highly sought-after national funding grants to further their cutting-edge research.
Six QIMR Berghofer scientists received a total of more than $6.6 million from the prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grants program which supports creative and innovative research projects.
Meanwhile cancer epigeneticist Associate Professor Jason Lee was awarded $915,215 under the NHMRC Development Grant scheme which aims to boost the translation of medical research into commercial outcomes.
QIMR Berghofer Deputy Director Professor Grant Ramm, who is one of the recipients, said securing an NHMRC grant was a significant achievement for a research team.
“Congratulations to our dedicated scientists who have been awarded these prestigious grants in this latest round. These schemes provide crucial funding for scientists to progress discoveries towards new treatments and improved patient outcomes. It also delivers security for research teams so they can continue their important work,” Professor Ramm said.
The successful QIMR Berghofer researchers and their teams are:
NHMRC Ideas Grants:
Professor Vicki Whitehall (Conjoint Gastroenterology)
This project will identify new ways to harness the potential of immunotherapy for patients with advanced bowel cancer to improve dismal survival rates. The team will use cutting-edge technology involving human-derived cancer-immune cell models to discover new immunotherapy approaches. This could lead to a major advance in the management of metastatic bowel cancer.
Professor Grant Ramm (Hepatic Fibrosis)
Professor Ramm and his team will advance their discovery of the biological process which results in a type of liver cell, responsible for producing scar tissue that can cause inflammation and ultimately cirrhosis and liver cancer. The team will design new therapeutics targeting a newly identified mechanism of liver inflammation which could produce a novel anti-inflammatory drug for adults and children with both acquired and inherited forms of serious liver disease.
Professor Sudha Rao (Gene Regulation & Translational Medicine)
The NHMRC Ideas grant will advance an exciting new epigenetic drug developed by the research team that targets cancer cells and simultaneously re-invigorates the immune system. This could treat cancers that are resistant to immunotherapy and increase the numbers of patients who are able to access the benefits of immunotherapy.
Associate Professor Stacey Edwards (Functional Cancer Genomics)
Scientists have discovered around 1,400 genetic variants linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer but little is known about the target genes of these variants. A/Prof Edwards and her team will identify and evaluate new genes that promote ovarian cancer development, revealing fresh information that could result in new drug targets, and provide alternative treatment options for the most common type of ovarian cancer.
Dr Philip Mosley (Clinical Brain Networks)
Dr Mosley will study how deep brain stimulation affects brain activity to reduce symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in people who haven’t responded to existing drug or psychological treatments. This vital information could improve the effectiveness of this emerging therapy, and will be used by Dr Mosley to develop the next generation of non-invasive, non-surgical neuromodulation therapies that are more accessible and acceptable for people with severe OCD.
Dr Elke Hacker (Cancer Control)
Is there a safe level of sun exposure that is effectively harmless to our skin? Existing sun protection policies advise a UV level of 3 and below is safe, but there is little evidence to support this figure. Dr Hacker will lead experiments using different doses of solar-simulated UV radiation on skin cells and test for DNA and cell damage to find out the safe level of sun exposure. This will fill the knowledge gap and improve Australia’s sun protection policies helping to reduce the burden of skin cancer.
NHMRC Development Grant:
Associate Professor Jason Lee (Epigenetics & Disease)
This project is focused on improving outcomes for the significant proportion of patients who fail to respond to existing treatments and find their cancer returns. A/Prof Jason Lee and his team will test the effectiveness of a new drug, that can be used alone or with other drugs, to work out optimal combinations of treatments so immunotherapies are more successful for more patients.